“Tell Her I’m Sorry”
The Story of a Father’s Betrayal
A short story from the Anthology, Sunsets & Raindrops.
Life has a weird way of unfolding, refolding, and falling apart. Life has this tendency to lose control, gain control, descend into confusion, ascend into chaos, and level-out into a sense of neutrality which is anything but neutral and certainly isn’t level.
But that’s life.
It’s nine o’clock at night. I only have three more hours.
Three hours is not that long, but it seems like an eternity. The musty smell of this place seems like a cross between concrete, dust, and sadness. These gray walls don’t provide much comfort the life I’ve lived, or her life, the one I’ve left.
I guess I should explain who I am and how I got here. It’s kind of a sad story, but I’ll tell it anyway. But I only have three hours. Parts of it are kind of fuzzy, but I’ll do my best.
My name is Paul. I’m 38 years old. When I was 23, I married my high school sweetheart, Michelle. I loved her so much. I met her when I was a senior and she was a freshman. We both sang in the choir and had leading roles in the school musical that year. The musical was Camelot. I played the part of Sir Lancelot and she played the part of Guinevere. I will never forget the red and gold dress she wore for the play. It is forever etched in my mind. We worked so hard together on those parts and got to be very close from that experience. The rest, as they say, is history. Well, almost.
After I graduated from high school, we broke up because I was going to the University of Massachusetts, a long way from our hometown of Tampa, Florida. We kept in touch for about a year but slowly faded from each other until we eventually stopped talking.
I dated a few girls after that, but nothing very serious. Then, about a week before classes began my senior year of college, I got a call from Michelle. I was rather surprised, but happy to hear from her. I remember that conversation like it was yesterday.
“Hey Paul! Guess what?” she asked. She seemed excited.
“What?” I replied. I didn’t know what to expect.
“I’m about three blocks from you!” she said as she giggled.
“Huh?” I said. I was a little confused.
“I’m going to UMASS for college!” she said.
“Really? Let’s meet!” I said happily.
We met for dinner that night and told each other how we’d been and what we’d been doing for the past few years. She looked so different, yet she hadn’t changed a bit. She was still beautiful. She had thick, blonde hair that flowed like a golden river down to the tops of her shoulders. Her figure was perfect. Her lips were a dark vermilion and as soft as a silk pillow, and her eyes were a deep blue sea of beauty and wonder. Needless to say, it didn’t take me long—a mere few weeks—to fall in love with her again. I was willing to give my life for her. She meant the world to me. So you can imagine that when everything fell apart, so did I. But I’ll get to that later.
So anyway, we dated all through my senior year of college and after I graduated, I asked her to marry me. She said yes. We got married that summer at an outdoor ceremony. The weather was nearly perfect. The sun shined warmly on the small quaint gazebo where our wedding took place, and though thunder quietly rumbled from a storm off in the familiar distance, it never rained. Everything was perfect, except the timing.
Michelle decided not to go back to college the following semester. She said that she would go back in a few years after we had settled down.
I got a job teaching history and coaching girls’ basketball in a small town in southern Florida so we rented ourselves an apartment there and moved in. About two years later, Michelle was ready to go back to college. However, something came up.
“Paul?” she said one night when I arrived home from a long night of basketball practice. The evening was unusually spring-like, minus the birds.
“Yes Dear?” I replied.
What she was about to tell me would change both our lives forever. The two words she was about to give me said a million things at once.
She looked at the floor, then into my eyes.
I didn’t know what to say. A shock of joy went through my body and my eyes filled with tears. It was one of the happiest moments of my life! She walked toward me and I embraced her with all the love that my body and heart could muster up. We cried a thousand tears of joy that night.
The next nine months gave me a lot of character. We worked through the pregnancy together, being supportive of each other every step of the way, and when the day came, we went to the hospital and I became a father. Just like that, I was a father. We thought long and hard about what to name her and decided on the name Bethlehem Gretchen; Beth for short. Michelle decided on the Beth part because that was her best friend’s name in high school (and we thought Bethlehem instead of Elizabeth was more original) and I decided on the Gretchen part because that was the name of the first woman I had ever loved.
My wife and I were as happy as we had ever been. Our apartment wasn’t big enough to handle the three of us, so we took out a loan and bought a house. We moved in and became what I had wanted for years. We were a family.
9:30 p.m. Only two and a half hours left.
I watched Beth grow up. I watched her take her first step, I heard her speak her first word, and I remember the first time she looked at me and said, “I wuv you, daddy!” She became my life. Coaching basketball became a distant second to my family. It had been almost as important to me as Michelle, but that changed. Beth and Michelle became my everything. I never wanted those days to end, but sure enough, they would.
Beth’s first day of kindergarten was a happy day for me. She wasn’t the little baby that I had loved years before. She was now a beautiful, sweet little girl with long blonde hair that curled at the middle of her back. She loved her mother and me so much and she seemed so happy. Watching her walk up the sidewalk that day that I dropped her off for her first day of school was tough for me. I remember thinking to myself, “If it’s this hard for kindergarten, I can’t imagine what college will be like!” I’ll never know.
That same day, I got a call from Dean. Dean was an old friend that Michelle and I knew in high school. Michelle dated him for a while after I left for college. It was weird hearing from him and it felt a little awkward but being the nice guy that I always tried to be, I chatted with him and accepted his invitation to dinner that night. He invited Michelle and me to eat at a fairly expensive restaurant and offered to pay. He had a rather sizable bank account because when he graduated from college, he went into computer programming. I’m not quite sure what exactly he did, but he made a heck of a lot more money than I did as a teacher.
Michelle and I dressed casually for dinner, but when Dean arrived, he seemed he was trying too hard to look casual and snappy at the same time, wearing a black blazer over a gray button-down shirt, but with dark-blue jeans. I did my best not to mention the oddity of it, and simply tired to be sociable. Michelle had a wonderful time.
I wasn’t very crazy about having him around. He made me a little uncomfortable, but Michelle enjoyed his company. I decided that if it made her happy, it was worth being a little uncomfortable.
When winter came, Dean was still seeing a lot of us. He called quite a bit and came over to our house; at least three times a week. I started wondering if he even had a life of his own. He and Michelle became pretty good friends. I didn’t mind that very much. I guess every woman has to be able to associate with another male besides her husband. She enjoyed his company; he made her laugh and she had a good time whenever he was around.
With winter came basketball season. I was almost always in a good mood because I had the best basketball team that I had ever had. I had four players that had the potential to go to an NCAA Division 1 college when they graduated. We were good. In the preseason, we were picked to win the state championship. Needless to say, I was the world’s happiest coach!
When the season started, I found myself at basketball practice until almost seven o’clock at night. I felt bad for neglecting Michelle and Beth, but Dean said that he would keep them company for me. I trusted him. I’m sorry to say it, but it was one of the biggest mistakes of my life.
The team turned out to be much better than anyone had ever expected. No one could even come close to beating us. We were invited to numerous out-of-state tournaments, received an extreme amount of media coverage, and my phone rang non-stop with college coaches calling me about one or more of my players. However, all of this meant time away from home; time away from my family. I began to really miss getting to spend time with Michelle and Beth. I thought about them all the time and prayed every night for their safety and happiness.
At the mid-season mark, my team was undefeated. I could almost feel the “Coach of the Year Award” in my hands. At Christmas, I was the happiest person on Earth. I was really looking forward to the Christmas season and getting to spend lots of time with Michelle and Beth, but most of all, keeping Dean from taking over my family. That became a big concern to me. He was at my house almost every night when I got home from practice and I was a little afraid that Beth would think that he was her father instead of me! But anyway, Christmas was fun, somewhat. Michelle insisted that we invite Dean over on Christmas Eve and have him sleep over and open presents with us on Christmas Morning. It wasn’t that bad, although I did want my daughter’s Christmas to be spent with just Michelle and me. But once again, it was what Michelle wanted, so I didn’t object.
I remember vividly, on Christmas Day, going out in the back yard to find some wood for our fire place, and saw Dean, leaning against our apple tree at the north end of our property, smoking a cigarette. I didn’t completely understand the look he gave me at the time, but it seemed to exude some sort of confidence. At the time, I either didn’t understand it, or didn’t want to understand it.
“What’s up,” I asked him, forcing myself to cheerfulness.
“Nothing. Just stepped out for a second. You know,” he smirked. “Thanks for letting me hang out. Glad I could keep you guys company.”
“No problem,” I said sullenly. I don’t think, at any point in the conversation, I made eye contact with him.
I went back inside, alone. I took a minute and picked up Beth and hugged her tightly, and almost enjoyed our time alone, when Dean walked back in.
11:00 p.m. I only have one more hour.
Since I don’t have much time left, I’ll try to make this short. As basketball season progressed, the team got better and better. No one beat us during the entire regular season. When the state tournament came along, I asked Michelle if she and Beth would come stay with me in the hotel during the tournament, which was pretty much in the extreme northern part of Florida. She said that she didn’t feel like making the trip, but kissed me on the cheek and wished me good luck. Once again, Dean offered to “keep them company” for me.
Tournament week came and I was very excited! I knew and everyone else on the team knew that we could win the whole thing! In the first round of this four-round tournament, we won very convincingly. Actually, we dominated the other team, 86-52. We advanced. In the second round, it was a pretty close game. We only won by ten, 77-67. We advanced. In the third round, the semifinals, we played our rivals from the regular season. The last time we played them, we only won by three. This time, we walked all over them, 98-45. One of my players set the state record with thirty-seven blocked shots and we advanced to the final game of the tournament; the championship game.
The night before the final game, I called home to see how everything was going. I was rather astonished when Dean answered the phone, He sounded like he had been sleeping. When I asked to talk to Michelle, he told me that she wasn’t home. I said “Oh, OK,” and hung up the phone, not believing a word he’d said. I didn’t sleep at all that night. I knew something was wrong.
The next day in the championship game, my team shocked the entire media. We did something that no one had expected us to do. We lost. We lost by only one point, 101-100 in triple overtime. It was the best I had ever seen them play considering their circumstances. Three of them scored twenty points or more. However, the player that had thirty-seven blocked shots the night before twisted her ankle in the first quarter and she wasn’t able to play for the rest of the game. When she left, so did our best defensive player.
11:30 p.m. Half an hour left. Time is so valuable.
Anyway, I decided to have the team make the trip home that night on the bus instead of staying another night in the hotel and leaving the next morning. I just wanted to get home. I just wanted to see Michelle. I just wanted to see Beth. I was very disappointed and let down by everything that happened that night and I just needed someone to hug and hold. I thought about them for the entire four-hour bus ride home. They were the only people that could keep my mind off of the game.
When I got home, it was about 2:00 a.m. I remember walking in from the dark windy night, setting my bags down just inside the front door and walking straight toward my bedroom. I heard a strange noise. I opened the door, reached over and turned the light on, and saw . . . them. Dean and Michelle were there, in front of me, in my bed, having sex! I couldn’t believe it! At that instant, they both sat up and looked at me like I was a ghost. I could hear my heart beating in my ears, in my mind, in my soul. That’s when I lost control.
I turned to the dresser that I was standing beside and pulled out the loaded .45mm hand gun that I kept for safety reasons. I stared at it briefly as I clenched it in my trembling right hand. I cocked it, pointed it at them, and pulled the trigger repeatedly until there were no more bullets left in the gun. I don’t remember how many shots it was. It just sounded like one long, drawn-out cannon shot to me.
From the looks of it, I killed Michelle instantly. Her flowing blonde hair had become a standing river of dark blood as she lay there, motionless. I remember thinking that the room smelled like firecrackers. Dean was slumped over on the bed in pain, crying like a little boy. His breathing bubbled and any words that he attempted to mutter only came out as a gurgling hiss of inaudibility. I was so full of rage. I remember feeling a little bit of remorse, but it didn’t last long. When my mind flashed back to what I saw when I turned that light on, all my remorseful feelings disappeared like a warm breath on an icy-cold night.
Everything after that is a little fuzzy. I remember getting a few things to take with me and putting them into my bag. Then I went into Beth’s room—she was awake and crying from all the noise—and picked her up and took her to the car, repeating to her, “It’s okay honey. I love you, I love you.” She kept asking me what happened but I just told her that everything would be okay. I must have sounded so cold to her, yet so hurt. I was so full of rage.
After I put her in the car, I went to the garage and got the spare tank of gasoline that sat next to the lawnmower. Walking swiftly, I clinched the red gas can in my hand, thinking that it felt oddly similar to the handle of the gun that I’d dropped on the floor of the bedroom. I took it into my bedroom where Dean sat, slumped over, struggling to breath. I poured gasoline over the bed, the floor, the dresser, the gun, and then over the rest of the house. Then, standing over my own bed, I struck a match, held it for a second, then dropped it. The two of them lit up like a Roman Candle of yellow, orange, and red. The room smelled like vengeance.
I rushed out of the room and out of the house to keep from getting burned and got in the car. There, I watched the house – my house, my life – burn. Beth cried and cried, but I couldn’t hear it. I was still full of wrath and my eyes glowed with rage.
After a few minutes of sitting in my car, I started it up and drove to my mother’s house. There, I simply waited for the police to come pick me up.
That was three years ago. I’ve appealed my case four times, but it hasn’t done any good. I’m still guilty. Do I regret it? Yes. Beth is eight-and-a-half now and I haven’t seen her since that night. My mother has been raising her. It kills me that she is going to have miss out on all the memories of having a father. It kills me that she will have to grow up as an orphan.
Well, it’s 11:56 p.m.
I had better wrap this up.
I’m scheduled to be executed at midnight for the murders of my wife and my friend.
If anyone reads this, please tell Beth that I love her.
And tell her I’m sorry…